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Celiac Disease, Wheat Allergy, or Gluten Intolerance?

These days, it seems like everyone and their dog is gluten free. Many avoid gluten by choice, assuming it is better for their health, others feel less bloated and distended avoiding it as the fermentable carbohydrates (fructans) in gluten can cause gastrointestinal upset, and some avoid gluten as it can cause irreparable damage to their intestinal lining. Those with celiac disease fall into the last category as the gluten protein found in wheat, barley, and rye can cause an immediate autoimmune reaction from their immune system, causing it to attack the lining of their gastrointestinal tract, flattening the small finger-like projections that line the GI tract, putting them at risk for nutrient deficiency, gut imbalance and overgrowth (dysbiosis), extreme discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, nervous system imbalance, coronary artery disease, type 1 diabetes, and other autoimmune diseases. People with celiac disease who don't maintain a gluten-free diet have a greater risk of developing several forms of cancer, including intestinal lymphoma and small bowel cancer.

Did you know that 20% of individuals with Celiac disease are asymptomatic yet have the same risk of developing long-term health complications as symptomatic individuals? Let’s chat more about the ins-and-outs of celiac disease, how to identify an intolerance vs allergy, and what those at risk for or suspicious of celiac disease can do.

How is Celiac Disease Different from a Wheat Allergy or Gluten Intolerance?

Celiac Disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that causes a strong immune response to the protein, gluten. This reaction causes gastrointestinal discomfort and damage to the small intestinal villi, which impairs digestion and nutrient absorption and can lead to future health problems.

A wheat allergy, on the other hand, is an immune response triggered, specifically, by wheat that does not cause any damage to the small intestine.

Finally, gluten intolerance (also known as gluten sensitivity) causes symptoms similar to Celiac Disease, but does not cause any damage to the small intestine.

What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

Although there is a wide range of possible symptoms, the most common are gastrointestinal symptoms, such as:

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Bloating

  • Abdominal pain

  • Nausea & vomiting

  • Weight loss

  • Fatigue

Wondering if your symptoms are caused by Celiac Disease? The Celiac Disease Foundation’s Symptoms Assessment Tool may help:

How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?

It is thought that 1 in 100 people worldwide has Celiac disease, but only 30% of them are properly diagnosed.

While symptoms and family history can certainly point towards Celiac disease, a final diagnosis is made through blood tests, genetic testing, and biopsies. Blood tests look for antibodies associated with the disease, biopsies check for tissue damage to the small intestine, and genetic testing looks for Celiac Disease gene variants. Using these tools, a doctor can rule out other gastrointestinal disorders that present similar symptoms and officially diagnose you with Celiac disease.

How to Treat Celiac Disease?

There is no cure for Celiac Disease but adopting a gluten-free diet has shown to be very effective in treating symptoms, preventing additional intestinal damage, and healing the damage that has already been caused.

Although gluten-containing grains like wheat and all of its varieties, rye, and barley need to be avoided, there are several other grains that are great gluten-free substitutes:

  • Rice

  • Quinoa

  • Oats

  • Buckwheat

  • Amaranth

  • Millet

  • Sorghum

  • Teff

  • Corn

  • Fonio

  • Others

A Registered Dietitian can help teach you how to adopt and follow a gluten-free diet and develop a plan of action tailored to your personal and unique needs.

Looking for Some Gluten-Free Recipes to Get You Started?

No refined ingredients, no added sugar, no gluten and it is still kid approved, while helping your gut microbiome stay happy!

Looking for Some Great Gluten-Free Recommendations?

Here are some gluten-free brands and products that we love!


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Allen, Patricia (2015). Gluten-related disorders: celiac disease, gluten allergy, non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Pediatric Nursing. 41(3):146-50. PMID: 26201175.

Celiac Disease Foundation. (2016, October 14). 20 Things You Might Not Know About Celiac Disease. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from

Celiac disease - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.,all%20the%20nutrients%20it%20needs. Accessed May 3, 2023.

Murray, J., Watson, T., Clearman, B., & Mitros, F. (2004, April 01). Effect of a gluten-free diet on gastrointestinal symptoms in celiac disease. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from

Rubio-Tapia, A., MD, Hill, I., MD, Kelly, C., MD, Calderwood, A., MD, & Murray, J., MD. (2013, May). ACG clinical guidelines: Diagnosis and management of celiac disease. Retrieved September 12, 2020, from

What is celiac disease? Celiac Disease Foundation. Accessed May 3, 2023.


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